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April 04, 2016

Villanova 77, UNC 74: Kris Jenkins’ buzzer-beater wins national title for 'Nova

HOUSTON – Incredible... just incredible.

After Marcus Paige tied the game with an off-balance three, Kris Jenkins hit a bomb of his own as time expired to blow the roof off NRG Stadium and give the Villanova Wildcats their second national championship in program history. It was truly The Shot Heard 'Round College Hoops. No. 2 ‘Nova defeated the No. 1 North Carolina Tar Heels 77-74 in about as good of a national title game as you will ever see.

"It's amazing," Jay Wright said. "It's amazing to be out there watching One Shining Moment, standing up on the stage, seeing those kids cut down the net. I don't really think I have the words to explain it."

When asked what he was thinking as the shot left his hands, Jenkins replied with one word: Ballgame. 

How did we get to that point? Well, as has been the case all tournament, the Wildcats shot the absolute eyes out of the basketball: 58 percent from the field and 57 percent from three. Stepbacks, leaners, floaters, and whatever ‘Nova was firing up, it generally went in against a tough UNC defense.

"I just think it was so exciting to watch, both teams making great plays," Wright said. "They had a great first half. We had a great second half. Neither one of us could break each other."

The last win is almost always the hardest one to get. For ‘Nova, who had cruised through the NCAA Tournament up to this point, that was definitely the case.

The game was dominated by a couple of surprising guards. UNC’s Joel Berry caught fire in the first half en route to 20 points, but he was matched shot for shot by ‘Nova sophomore Phil Booth. The 6’3” Baltimore native, who finished with a career-high 20 points, hit some incredibly difficult shots in the second half. On a 'Nova team that gets contributions from up and down the lineup, Booth was a fitting hero.

"We don't care who has the stats, who looks great individually," Josh Hart (12 points, 8 rebounds in a yeoman's effort on the glass) said... "For Phil to step up at this stage, I've known him since I was 14, I'm so proud of him." 

"The way it ended and the way we did it and the way we battled back, we couldn't ask for a better way to go out," Booth said.

From a pace standpoint, this game was played largely in the halfcourt, which favored ‘Nova against the uptempo Tar Heels. And as they always have, the Wildcats kept the opposing star player in check. Brice Johnson had an efficient 14 points, but he didn’t take over the game in a way that some forecasted.

"I feel like Daniel (Ochefu) and I did a great job on Brice Johnson," Darryl Reynolds said. "He is a great player. You cannot take anything away from him, but we did it as a team."

Over the last few days, UNC’s offensive rebounding was a major talking point. It’s a crucial part of the Tar Heels’ offensive attack, especially because UNC (31.9 percent) normally struggles mightily from behind the arc. The Tar Heels collected 16 offensive rebounds, but they also shot 11-17 from behind the arc for the game. 

So yeah, the Wildcats took a pretty good punch.

"That was just great college basketball," Wright said. "Two great teams."

Jenkins got two fouls before the first TV timeout, and it disrupted Villanova’s offensive rhythm. Daniel Ochefu was largely able to stay out of foul trouble, though, and that was huge.

"I always want to be out there with my guys, but there was no frustration," Jenkins said. "Next man up. We have so much faith and confidence in each other."

With the Wildcats down seven points late in the first half, Hart made a critical chase-down block in transition. Booth hit a floater on the other end of the floor at the buzzer, and ‘Nova took a critical four-point swing into the locker room.

For Wright's legacy, tonight's game means everything. Just like his mentor Rollie Massimino, he now has won a title at Villanova. The 81-year-old Massimino was on the floor after the game celebrating with Wright and the Wildcats.

"Everyone in coaching has to be given a chance by somebody," Wright said. "You don't have internships or apprenticeships in coaching where you learn the craft. Somebody has to give you the opportunity, then they have to spend the time with you to teach you. He did that for me."

"To share this with him, our Villanova people love him. He's a magical figure."

And this was a magical team that went on a magical tournament run, capped off by a magical shot.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann